Staff Editorial

As the class of 2010 begins their second term of that beloved Lawrence institution Freshman Studies, it’s interesting to look at the relevance and diversity of the works being studied. It is widely accepted that every piece of the curriculum of Freshman Studies is somehow vitally important to all those who experience it. But with the changes that have been made over the years, we find ourselves asking, “Where has all of the literature gone?”
In recent days, freshmen started off with a bang, struggling through the abstract and literarily important piece, “If on a winter’s night a traveler” by Italo Calvino. They also examined the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, a giant American literary figure that many had not encountered before Lawrence.
In the beginning of second term, it was Dostoevsky whom, unfortunately, very, very few students will ever encounter again in their college careers. All of these were challenging as pieces of literature — the poetry especially — and called upon students to think about how literature is written, read and analyzed.
With recent changes, literature is sadly missing, save the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges. Now, students are presented with four personal philosophical pieces: Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own,” Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Max Weber’s essay “The Protestant Ethic,” and Chuang Tzu’s “Basic Writings,” the ideas of which, while encouraging lively discussion and argumentative papers, could be found in different and perhaps more awakening forms in literature, especially fiction.
Fiction might be a dying art — though we at the Lawrentian think differently — but it is universal and for good reason. There are true fictional classics such as William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying,” Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” (both on the list of recommended works), works of Franz Kafka such as “America” or his short stories, Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway,” or even Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” or “The Idiot” (none of these are on the list of recommended works) and a host of others that I’m sure any professor on campus would be willing to recommend for their various merits.
These works present themes that easily tie in to other readings from Freshman Studies, and are also representative of their respective genres, time periods, and nationalities in such a way that may in fact encourage further reading by people who discover they actually enjoy the authors. Fiction is an acquired taste that should most definitely be encouraged and talked about, especially for those who have not acquired the taste before coming to Lawrence.
The changes made over the years are made for a purpose, often to ensure cohesion in theme, which is vital to the continual growth in maturity of discussion in class and comparative papers. But perhaps fiction could be recommended for a different purpose — to study style, especially in a class that demands the development of writing style; to study structure; and to study a universal method of expressing ideas. Fiction is fun, too.
While we agree that the works currently being studied are valuable, we greatly encourage anyone who questions that value, or sees value elsewhere, to speak up and put forth ideas and suggestions. Professor Tim Spurgin, the current director of Freshman Studies, is very enthusiastic about hearing thoughts regarding the merits of works. After all, that is what Freshman Studies is all about.